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Over the course of almost three hundred years, a lot of things get forgotten about. Since the ships sailed in 1718, both Ireland and America have gradually forgotten about the event and the people; Americans have forgotten the important connection between New England's history and a small corner of Northern Ireland; people in Ulster have not remembered their ancestors' brothers, sisters, cousins, sons and neighbours who left for an unknown new world. Because these things have been forgotten, no one has really grasped the importance of the Ulster Scots in early settlements in New England, and in American history as a whole. In the nineteenth century, when American historians and genealogists first looked seriously at the history of their families and settlements and of New England as a whole, they viewed the Ulster Scots as one small element in a melting pot nation. The Irishness and Scottishness of these distant ancestors had blurred over the two hundred intervening years, as the Ulster Scots assimilated into Protestant America. The historians' focus was more on what happened to these people once they got to America, and though records and family tradition preserved quite a bit of information on Irish and Scots origins, it would have been almost impossible, even if mid-nineteenth century researchers had wanted to do so, to make contact with people of the same names in the areas that the ancestors had left. It's hard to think ourselves back to a time when there was literally no way that an American genealogist living in the 1860s could have found out who lived in a particular town or townland in Ireland; we are nowadays so conditioned by the existence of phonebooks, electoral registers and directories, even before there was online searching.

Now our interests have changed again, and people are keen to try to follow histories back to earliest ancestors. In the early twenty-first century, thanks to the development of internet technology, and just as importantly the development of attitudes to genealogy shaped by the internet, the time has come to tell the story of the 1718 emigrants, and to understand for the first time just how important these early emigrants are; not just for America, but for Ireland and Scotland. Both sides of the Atlantic have a good deal of catching up to do, but for the first time, especially now that the numbers of local historians and genealogists online have reached what scientists call a 'critical mass', it will be possible to link up families and communities who had over the centuries forgotten about each other.

There are benefits in attempting this for both Americans and Ulster people. For people looking at their history from an American perspective, a knowledge of Ulster material can explain why people emigrated and can provide a sense of what their world was like. Understanding the kind of communities that the settlers were familiar with will help Americans understand what the small towns of Derry and Londonderry and other New Hampshire settlements were like in their earliest years, when they were literally Ulster villages dropped into the New England wilderness. The first settlers of many small towns were Ulster Scots, also called the Scotch-Irish, with few people from anywhere else. It is not surprising that the Ulster Scots married among each other for several generations, so that names of Ulster origin continued to be linked together, and when they moved on to other settlements in Maine, Vermont, Pennsylvania or Nova Scotia, the relationships and marriage patterns moved with them. Historians should find material for a number of interesting studies in settlement and cultural history once the role of the Ulster Scots in the pre-Revolutionary era is better understood.

Individual Americans interested in their own families may be able to make contact with distant kin in the north of Ireland; access to local knowledge there will enable them to sort out misunderstandings and misreadings of records, for instance in placenames. It would be hard for an American to find Ulster townland names on modern maps, if they are looking for old versions or misspellings; Dumbo or Dumbough in county Derry is more readily found today as Dunboe, and Mennemore is more likely to be Moneymore. There is also a possibility for American researchers that Irish or Scottish records might cast some light on earlier generations, even though it is widely believed that researching in Ireland is very difficult because of the loss of records in Dublin in the civil war in 1922.

 

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